An extremist Arab Knesset member who endorses violence and has been condemned by the Likud and Labor parties alike was cheered at the recent J Street national conference. For an organization that supposedly promotes peaceful coexistence, they sure have some strange bedfellows.
The object of J Street’s enthusiastic applause was Member of Knesset Ayman Odeh, leader of the parliamentary bloc known as the Joint Arab List.
Odeh is well-known in Israel for his extremist rhetoric. Last year, for example, he claimed that Israel murdered Yasser Arafat. Not only is that a discredited conspiracy theory, but it’s a potentially lethal blood libel, because it could incite Arabs to murder Jews in “revenge.”
Not that Odeh has any problem with Palestinian violence. In an interview with Israel Army Radio on Oct. 6, 2015, Odeh was asked about that week’s Palestinian murders of U.S. citizen Eitam Henkin and his wife Na’ama. Their four young children, seated in the back of the Henkin family car, watched their parents being killed. At first, Odeh avoided endorsing the murders, but then added that the Palestinians have “a right to struggle” against Israel. He cited the first Intifada as an example of a “struggle” that is “fully justified.”
Pressed by the interviewer as to whether throwing rocks at Jews is legitimate, Odeh replied, “I always blame the occupation for being guilty. I cannot tell the nation how to struggle, where and which target to throw the rock. I do not put red lines on the Arab Palestinian nation.”
Israeli political figures from right to left denounced Odeh’s support for violence.
MK Itzik Shmuly (Zionist Union) said Odeh’s statements were “angering and disappointing.” I understand Shmuly’s anger. Many Israelis have been permanently maimed, and some even murdered, by Palestinian rock-throwers.
I wonder if anybody at the J Street conference remembers 64-year-old Alexander Levlovitz, who was driving through Jerusalem with two friends, on their way home from Rosh Hashanah dinner, when Palestinian rock-throwers caused his car to crash, killing him. I wonder if the J Street delegates recognize the names of U.S. citizen Asher Palmer and his young son, Yonatan. Terrorists’ rocks crashed through their front windshield, causing the car to crash and killing both Asher and Yonatan.
Rocks are not the only kind of violence that Odeh is comfortable with. In an interview with Al-Arabiya television on March 4, 2016, Odeh was asked about the wave of Palestinian knife attacks against Israelis that was then raging. He replied, “We should examine our history and the history of the nations to determine strategies. There is no doubt that a popular intifada is most beneficial to the Palestinian people. I, from my place, cannot tell the Palestinian people how to resist.”
Sadly, J Street’s support for Odeh was not diminished by the fact that several representatives of his bloc last year paid a solidarity visit to the family of a Palestinian terrorist who murdered an American-Jewish peace activist — in other words, someone from J Street’s own camp.
On Oct. 13, 2015, Baha Alyan and a fellow terrorist, armed with guns and knives, boarded a bus in Jerusalem. One of the passengers was 78-year-old Richard Lakin, a civil rights veteran from Connecticut. Lakin “taught English to Israeli and Palestinian children” in Jerusalem and “never missed a peace rally,” according to his rabbi. That’s the kind of resume that many J Streeters undoubtedly boast, as well.
In February 2016, three Knesset members from Odeh’s Joint Arab List decided to show their solidarity with Palestinian terrorism by meeting with members of dead terrorists’ families, including Baha Alyan’s father. Their action, which was denounced across the Israeli political spectrum, put party leader Odeh to the test. Would he penalize MKs Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka, and Basel Ghattas for their pro-terrorist action? Would he at least condemn them? Not at all. Ayman Odeh, the beloved speaker at the J Street conference, was not bothered in the least by his comrades’ pro-terror stance.
Did even one J Street official ask Odeh about Richard Lakin? Did even one delegate to the conference wonder why they were applauding a man who refused to penalize or even criticize supporters of Lakin’s killer?
In a recent article, I wrote about another Odeh (I have no idea if the two are in any way related) — Rasmea Odeh, the convicted murderer of two Israeli college students. I asked how the mainstream American-Jewish left would respond to the news that Rasmea will be speaking at the upcoming national conference of a Jewish anti-Zionist group, Jewish Voice for Peace. I called on Jewish doves to distance themselves from Arab terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh. Not only did they not do so, but now one of them, J Street, has itself openly embraced another terror supporter. What a tragedy, indeed.